Short-term thinking about who you hire is the curse of many sales teams. To build a successful, enduring organization, leaders need to take a longer view of their employees’ careers.
That means you have to do several things during the time each employee is with you. The first one is to invest up front in testing and evaluating your candidates, to make sure they’re the right people for the job. Some industries, and some countries, are a lot better at this than others. In financial services in the U.S., for example, we figured this out the hard way. Years ago, it wasn’t uncommon to find somebody with good sales skills, pay for a background check, hire them and invest in initial training – only to find out they couldn’t pass the multiple state and federal licensing exams they needed. We learned our lesson: today, American financial services companies invest a lot in psychological and behavioral testing to make sure candidates aren’t just good at selling, but also have the quantitative skills they need to be able to pass the tests.
It’s not quite the same in other countries, or in other industries; for example, I’ve seen some Polish companies that hire people en masse and just assume that many will be weeded out by attrition over the first few years. Because they don’t have that financial discipline of needing to invest in training for licensing exams, Polish companies have found it easier to take this approach – as they do in many other sectors in the States. They’re looking for cannon fodder, when they should be investing in training special forces. At the risk of sounding like just another foreigner who’s here to teach the Poles the right way to do things, I’d like to suggest that companies here need to consider a different approach. Investing a relatively small amount in behavioral demographics before hiring, and in training afterward, can ultimately be more efficient than hiring too many people and assuming they’ll drop out.
That’s because it focuses your attention on the group of people who are going to succeed, and gives your managers the opportunity to invest in them – not only, and not primarily, to invest money in training, but most of all for managers to invest their time in mentoring and other forms of employee development. Demographic profiling during the hiring phase and early in an employee’s career can also help companies identify people with the potential to become sales managers. As I’ve said before, the best salesperson might not be the best manager; managing people is a different skillset from selling things, and companies need to appreciate that. The earlier you figure out who those people are, the better you can prepare them for management roles, and the more you can target the resources you invest in others who aren’t cut out to be managers. Remember, a sales organization is like an orchestra or a sports team: you need the right mix of skills if you’re going to succeed. Another thing I’ve noticed is that some Polish companies don’t put enough effort into recruiting mid-career professionals. But again, if a salesforce is like a team, you need a few veterans. And bringing in fresh thinking from your competition can be transformative.
Ultimately, when you’re running a sales organization you need to have a longer horizon when you’re making hiring decisions: for your organization to thrive, you need to hire people for careers, not just jobs. Who’s got the personality and skills that it takes to stick with your organization for the long term – and what do you need to invest from your side to make sure you stick with them? Rather than looking to hire 10 people who will be with you for two years each, concentrate your efforts on finding the two people who will be with you for a decade or more. Sure, the up-front investment is great – but benefits you’ll reap over the next decade are greater still.